Generally speaking, young children are more boisterous than their parents. Much of this has to do with physical limitations. My seven year old does handsprings across the living room all day long, while my seventy year old mother would likely break in half attempting the same. Doubtless there is a mental, as well as a physical component to these differences. Older people don’t do cartwheels largely because they don’t feel like doing cartwheels, just as collecting dolls or watching cartoons loses its appeal after a certain age. Likewise, when a girl in first grade asked me to be her boyfriend, I told her no, because eight year old me thought kissing was gross. I was also deathly afraid of showering in the buff in view of my classmates. Not surprisingly, puberty changed my mind about locking lips with girls, and also led me down the path to becoming a nudist.
As we move through life’s stages, chemical changes in our brains determines our perceptions, our feelings, and our behavior. Neuroscientist Sam Harris asserts that every decision we make, however innocuous, stems from brain chemistry. For this reason, he argues, free will is merely an illusion. What you perceive as choice is, in actuality, something beyond your control. Now, while I do not fully prescribe to this claim, I do believe that a great deal of our lives is dictated by chemistry. Whether you’re waving a rainbow flag at a Gay Pride Festival or holding a sign that reads “God Hates Fags,” it’s the neurons firing impulses across your gray matter that’s making it happen. And it makes sense, if you think about it. Our brains are products of our inherited DNA, and can differ widely between race, sex and gender. Consider what would happen if you could turn a KKK member into an African American, or change a Bible thumping anti-gay pastor into a homosexual. OK, it’s been said that the most vociferous anti-gay proponents are gay themselves. Oftentimes, self-hate is the greatest hate of all. But I do not doubt the old wisdom about walking a mile in another man’s shoes, or the adage that states, “nothing happens until it happens to you.” Our nation has not been this divided since the Civil War, and understanding why and how we differ is as important as ever.
I came to realize the affect brain chemistry had on my nudist proclivities several years ago, when I mysteriously lost interest in sex. My doctor prescribed Cialis, because, as I suspect, he thought I was trying to boost my performance. What he had not understood was that my problem was entirely mental. I regarded the unclad female form to be the apex of beauty in the universe, but on that day in his office, women were pretty in the way you might call a flower pretty, or a rainbow, or a painting. A part of my brain had stopped working. When I looked at a girl who was, for lack of a better word, au natural, nothing was activating, and it scared me. Beyond just a lack of libido, I felt like I had aged about thirty years, like I was closer to sixty-five than thirty-five. At about the same time, I gave up on nudism. It isn’t as if my ideals had changed. I still believed in the basic right to be nude in public, and could find nothing offensive about the human body. But on a personal level, I just didn’t feel like it anymore. The longing to visit a beach or a resort, the desire to feel the wind and sun and water on my body, just wasn’t there. And the weird thing is, while I did not quite miss being naked, I did miss the wanting to be naked. Like sex, nudism had given me a great deal of joy, and now that part of me was missing. Months later, I had an MRI and was diagnosed with a pituitary tumor. The tumor was blocking production of testosterone, but thanks to a tiny round pill, the blockage shrank to almost nothing and I felt myself returning to normal. My libido shot back up, as did my enjoyment of nakedness.
For a naturist, nudity is innocent and natural. Textiles, by contrast, may see the unclothed body as crass, repulsive, or simply sexually stimulating. Scientists say DNA determines 80% of our personalities, from whether we are late or morning people to the types of foods we like to eat. In the same vein, the DNA of someone who loves being nude must differ from that of a person who dresses immediately after a shower. Genetic variations affecting behavior are manifested in the brain, but how and why environmental stimuli can alter it remains a mystery. For this reason, I would suggest that naturists themselves do not fully understand what drives them to the lifestyle, and that there is a lot more going on internally than a mere a longing for comfort.
Nudists have long insisted that there is no correlation between nudity and sex. I have made this claim myself. But after taking a trip down low-T lane, I am not so certain. What I do know is that the human brain is much more complex than we realize, and our sense of sexuality is equally complex. I am not suggesting that nudists are in it for the sex. This is patently untrue, as I have never seen an orgy breakout at a resort, and overt displays of lewd behavior will typically get you thrown out. But this isn’t to say that, at the level of the neuron, there isn’t something being triggered by the sight of genitalia. Sexuality plays a role in almost everything we do, from using the bathroom to our choice of swimwear to the way we dance. Subtle changes in facial expression, in body language, even in the pitch of our voices, can send signals of interest to the opposite sex without you even being aware of it. Sex is an integral part of being human and goes far beyond A + B. To suggest that nudism has “nothing” to do with sex, I feel, is either disingenuous or a symptom of mere confusion.
Why is it that every nakation travel brochure features young, attractive models? Even The Bulletin, the American Association for Nude Recreation’s own magazine, tends to display their more attractive members. The stars of pro-naturist films, like Free the Nipple and Act Naturally, are typically younger, and bloggers Felicity Jones and Lady God1va have many more followers than I will ever have, in part due to their sex and, let’s be honest, their attractiveness. At a naturist resort I visited with my wife in Cancun, the athletic young couple who happened to be vacationing there were treated like celebrities. That being said, I am not calling nudists out for hypocrisy. On the contrary, I am a firm advocate of the pro-body philosophy, and in fighting the harmful stereotypes of beauty so narrowly defined by Barbie dolls and Playboy. However, even nudists cannot deny the basic processes that go on in the brain, and that we all, on some level, harbor our own sexual biases.
The problem, I believe, stems from our lack of understanding how the brain works, and how it works in relation to sex. What we need is more research in this area, and while I do not have the means for it, I am calling for those in the nudist community to scrutinize the lifestyle from a scientific standpoint. If we are to be honest with ourselves, we must consider the possibility that when we slip off our clothes, the parts of our brains associated with arousal also light up.
It would not surprise me if some nudists were to protest this idea, in that it may somehow derail the movement, in that textiles will say to us, “Aha! I knew it! You’re all a bunch of perverts!” But for me, honesty and transparency has always been an integral part of nudism. In going naked, we choose to hide nothing. And when it comes to our inner thoughts and feelings, we should be equally forthcoming. Doing this might even help our cause. For too long, we have pretended that we see no difference between a clothed and a naked person. Even to argue that everyone is equally attractive is, I feel, disingenuous.
No matter our beliefs, we should never be afraid of scientific scrutiny, because science does not dictate moral action. The purpose of science is to help us make informed decisions. It may turn out that there is no relation between sex and nudity, or that, what I feel is more likely, that the associations we make are largely dependent on the individual. But even if it turns out that there is a greater connection between them than we like to let on, I do not feel it should dissuade us from our core principles. Naturism is the belief that human beings, regardless of sex or sexual orientation, have the capacity to treat one another with respect. And in showing the world that nudists are, in fact, human—that we have desires and prejudices and biases like everyone else— we may become more relatable, and the movement more attractive to newcomers.
For this article, I wanted to reach out to two of my fellow naturists, people I have known for a long time, who have devoted much of their lives to the movement. Keep in mind, the views of two people is statistically insignificant, and does not make for scientific study.
Steve Willard has been a naturist for 40+ years, and is the founder of All-Nudist, an online resource dedicated to separating real nudist sites from those peddling smut.
NICK: How old were you when you got into naturism, and what drove you into it?
STEVE: Growing up, my family was pretty casual about nudity, but not serious about it. I’d always been attracted to it and got naked, inside and out, whenever I could. Real beach and club nudism began in my mid-forties with my former wife. Not long after that I started All-Nudist as a counter to the smut usually found on the Web. We’ve tried to maintain a benchmark of social nudism that folks, especially newcomers, can use to compare with other versions they run across. Not everyone agrees with our viewpoint, but we feel that a conservative approach shared worldwide is a good start!
NICK: I agree there are a lot of so-called nudist sites that do not represent the movement at all. People seem to be stuck in this mindset, that it’s either all about sex or that we belong to some anti-sex cult. There is no happy medium. It should come as no surprise that people gravitate toward pictures of younger, attractive females (and males). Even your logo, I would argue, has an element of sexuality to it. What is your view on this?
STEVE: Mea culpa, our logo could be seen as somewhat of a sexual appearance. Or is it ‘art’? Our original one was a line drawing of Adam and Eve, but this one is more ‘attractive’ and implies more than just old-fashioned concepts. But you won’t find gratuitous pics posted just for the sake of viewing; they’re used to illustrate an article just like any other legitimate information source does. Porn is and will continue to be associated with nudity, but a greater danger comes from those who wish to be part of social nudism, but want to change it to suit THEIR desires. They dilute and weaken the bonds that have formed over a hundred years. Those folks never embraced what nudism/naturism is in the first place.
NICK: No need to apologize for the logo. I really like it. But my point is, I feel that despite our beliefs, we cannot separate ourselves from our basic natures. Let me ask you, were there ever times in your life when you doubted the whole thing? Or, maybe you just didn’t feel like being nude anymore? Or are there days you’d rather just not be nude, even if it’s warm?
STEVE: Doubted? Never. I would be naked 24/7 if I could. Unfortunately, after a surgery gone bad, my metabolism has flip-flopped and I find myself bundled up in layers, while [my wife] Angie is nude on the couch! Not fair!
NICK: So, would you say you feel as interested in naturism as you were at 40? Or when you were in better health?
NICK: OK. Now I want you to imagine this hypothetical situation: you’ve been hooked up to a brain scan, and it has been clearly determined that the part of your brain associated with sex is also associated with the enjoyment you get out of nudity. How would you feel that would affect your ideas regarding nudism? Would you be surprised? Or would you be indifferent?
STEVE: I guess the short answer would be ‘indifferent’. As we’ve repeatedly affirmed on our website, just because we’re nudists doesn’t mean that we can’t appreciate an attractive person. ‘Attraction’ is inherently sexually motivated, as are nearly all things. That’s Nature at work! Attraction is essentially a desire to be closer to someone, for personality or sexual reasons. We wish to possess that person for ourselves. Nudists are just better at finding others attractive for reasons other than ‘beauty’ or sex appeal. It’s not as important as appearance is to Textiles. People are always talking about the sensual feeling of grass, wind and water on a bare body. True, and sensuality is a close friend of sexuality. There’s no reason not to let them mingle on occasion, or to enjoy the company of other nude people, but if sexual thoughts dominate the nudist experience, it may be time to find another place to pursue that and reconsider what it means to be a nudist/naturist. It’s not for everyone. As an aside, have you ever been at a nudist venue, perhaps in the pool, when a pretty young woman shows up? Watch the old men flock to make her feel welcome!
NICK: Yes! Young, beautiful couples tend to be treated differently, which seems to go against the nudist ethos, but I see nothing wrong with that. We are all products of our evolution. But what I have yet to see at a resort is harassment, or a woman being treated disrespectfully. No doubt it happens, I just haven’t seen it. Visit any nightclub and you’ll see a lot worse!
Felicity Jones (not the Rogue One star) is the co-founder of Young Naturists America, an organization dedicated to free-body activism. She does more than just write up naturist articles, however. Felicity helps to organize meet-ups with free-spirited individuals like herself, whom she calls ‘nudies,’ and arranges for special events like Body Painting Day, with artist Andy Golub in NYC. For Felicity, naturism goes hand-in-hand with feminism and a positive body image.
NICK: You’ve been involved in the naturist movement for a long time. When did you realize an interest in naturism? Or were you born into it?
FELICITY: I was born into it. My parents were naturists and I was raised in a naturist family. We belonged to a nudist club in NJ called Rock Lodge and so growing up I spent a lot of time there every summer.
NICK: Do you see a big difference between people introduced to the lifestyle at a young age and people coming into it later in life? How so?
FELICITY: Yes, for sure. People who get into nudism later in life tend to be a lot more enthusiastic, excited and dedicated to it. I guess that’s just the natural result of people growing up with something that’s accepted as normal, vs. choosing it for themselves later as something new and different. Beyond that, of course kids who grow up as naturists often have a more positive body image and healthier attitudes towards nudity and the human body. I believe the younger you are when you first try it, the more of a positive impact it can have on your psyche. It can work as a bit of an antidote to all of the negative messages we get about our bodies.
NICK: It has been my experience that men and women take to naturism differently. Men seem to want to be fully nude more often, and women seem to take comfort in simple accessories. I saw a lot of sarongs at a clothing-optional resort in Cancun!
FELICITY: Yes, I’ve written at length about the gender imbalance in naturism and how men seem to gravitate towards social nudity. It’s hard to pinpoint any one reason for this, but I’ve discussed a few social / cultural factors that I think are primarily to blame – body image, safety and rape culture, etc. Here’s my article about this – https://youngnaturistsamerica.com/nudist-women-why-naturism-has-lady-women-problem-today/
NICK: I know there’s a big misconception that nudists want to be nude 24/7. That being said, barring cold weather, are there days you simply prefer being dressed? If so, how do you feel your mood/self-image plays into that decision?
FELICITY: Well, it’s a misconception that that’s what it means to be a nudist, when really there’s kind of a spectrum. Some say they want to be naked all the time, but I think the majority are fine with wearing clothes sometimes. I wouldn’t really describe myself as a dedicated home nudist. Mostly I lounge in comfortable clothing when I’m home and it doesn’t have much to do with my mood or self-image. What I really like is being naked outdoors when it’s warm, and as far as my mood, I’m definitely happier that way [in the buff].
NICK: I believe there are differences in the brain between naturists, textiles, men and women that could explain differences in our behavior, outside of cultural and environmental aspects. Unfortunately, I have no real evidence to support this claim, but it is something I think we need to explore. For instance, my wife hates to be nude at home. I think most women are like this. Me, I prefer nudity 24/7, and I think that is true for a lot of guys.
FELICITY: I don’t *hate* to go nude at home. I’m just indifferent to it, or a little more comfortable in some kind of pants at least. I do get cold very easily, ha-ha. Unless I’ve just come from outside where it was blistering hot, then I’ll go in and strip down. But anyway, there could be some biological factor that makes men want to be naked. Who knows? There do exist women who want to be naked 24/7 too, so what would account for that difference? I still think the aforementioned cultural / social factors inhibit a lot of women from participating in naturism much more so than any brain / biological difference.
NICK: Lastly, I want to talk about sex. There seems to be a lot of contention about sex in nudism, with most nudists saying the two are entirely unrelated. I’d like to get your view on the subject.
FELICITY: I think nudists have had to work so hard in past decades to convince and assure everyone that nudism is a wholesome family activity, in the hopes that it would be accepted by society. But now things are different and I think it’s disingenuous to say, “Nudism isn’t sexual, at all, ever.” Humans are sexual beings, and that doesn’t change whether clothes are on or off. You don’t stop experiencing sexual feelings or being sexually attracted to someone in a nudist setting. The difference between sexual nudity and non-sexual nudity is in the behavior. Nudists don’t act on their sexual impulses. It’s all about context – there’s a time and place for everything. That’s a lot more explaining involved than saying “nudism is not sexual,” but I think nudists today need to acknowledge these distinctions instead of loudly insisting on that simple phrase.